Tag Archive for: victim blaming

What we can learn from the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard defamation case

By Sarah Maetche and Carlia Schwab

Like so many out there, we have been combing through the depths of Twitter and reading story after story on the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard defamation trial. After six weeks of testimony, and with the jury currently in deliberation at the time of writing, society has seen a gut-wrenching exposure of these two working actors’ relationship.

Depp, known from the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Tim Burton films to name a few, claims a 2018 op-ed written by Heard where she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse,” defamed him – his career and his reputation.

Heard, known from films like Aquaman, Justice League and The Danish Girl, has countersued with the claim that Depp’s attorney called her abuse allegations a “hoax.”

The defamation trial taking place in Virgina has been live-streamed and watched by millions across the globe. Depp has received waves of support on TikTok and Twitter, showing the scales of social media justice seem to be tipped his way.

Depp and Heard were married in 2015 after meeting on the set of the film The Rum Diary. Their relationship has been volatile with a highly public divorce, multiple court appearances and accusations of both verbal and physical abuse, including sexual violence during their relationship. The defamation trail has become yet another vehicle baring the shell of their relationship.

After the verdict of the trial is heard, the court of public opinion will also have its’ ruling. In the aftermath of this over exposure, there is much we can learn from this case and how it translates into a review of support services for all survivors of domestic violence.

Individuals will no doubt offer their opinions of the pair’s relationship, the information brought to light during the trial and the outcome of the trial, often in strong alignment to either Heard or Depp’s experiences.

Open dialogue and conversations are needed in this space, shifting away from a Depp vs. Heard, “she said vs. he said” narrative, or victim blaming statements towards an empathetic understanding that both individuals have experiences of being harmed by violence and participating in harmful, often violent, behaviors.

We can learn a lot from this case, in particular how society attributes violence and victim-identifying characteristics disproportionately to one gender over another. Media and public opinion often portray domestic violence impacts and the realities of survivors as highly one-gendered and female supported, often to the detriment of male identified survivors who are too looking for support.

Placing fame, wealth, socio-economic status, popularity, power, privilege, gender and sexual orientation aside, both male and female identified individuals can be impacted by and be survivors of domestic violence.

When engaging in conversations, providing support to disclosures of violence, and deep diving into media stories, we encourage individuals to focus not only on what their beliefs, thoughts and attitudes are about this case, but to be open to alternative ways of understanding domestic and relationship violence. Every individual who has experience violence should be offered support and understanding. They should have access to support without the fear of judgement, retribution, victim blaming or of not being believed.

Over half of adult Albertans have supported, or knows someone, who has experienced sexual violence. Given the highly public and social nature of the Depp vs. Heard defamation case, consider the tone of conversations you have. You can offer an open, unbiased and supportive space for your friends, family and peers to connect and debrief, and seek out resources for support. Remember that anyone of any gender can be impacted by violence and deserves access to support.

Sarah Maetche is the communications and administration manager at the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre. Carlia Schwab is the education and community relations manager at the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre.

Article as published in the Red Deer Advocate.

A million reasons why

By Sarah Maetche

There are a million reasons why someone who has experienced sexual or family violence won’t come forward.

Sometimes there are threats to safety. Sometimes they are threatened with legal action. Other times, the person who abused the individual holds a position of power over the victim. There are a many valid reasons why someone would not come forward to tell their story or seek justice.

Actress and activist for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse Evan Rachel Wood recently came forward and named her abuser. Following years of speculation of who was her unnamed abuser, Wood released a statement claiming she suffered years of horrific abuse by shock rocker Marilyn Manson.

In her appearance on the daytime TV show The View, Wood detailed some of the reasons why she didn’t come forward or name her abuser for over a decade. She has also recently released a documentary on the subject called Phoenix Rising.

On the talk show Wood stated that there are a million reasons why someone might not come forward such as trauma, intimidation, going up against someone who is powerful with many resources and fear of retaliation.

“Society around this issue is so geared around shame, blame and victim blaming and that is by design,” said Wood. “Even the way we speak about these things. We are still asking victim the question why they didn’t leave. And the fact that we are still asking that question tells me how much work there is to do.

“Nobody ever asks why the abuser didn’t leave,” she added. “We are programmed to ask these questions. We need to start asking different questions.”

“I am sad, because this is how it works,” said Wood who is now being sued by her alleged abuser. “This is what pretty much every survivor that tries to expose someone in a position of power goes though, and this is part of the retaliation that keeps survivors quiet. This is why people don’t want to come forward.”

There are also a million reasons why someone experiencing sexual or family violence didn’t leave an abusive relationship. These are some frequent questions we often hear asked of victims: “Why didn’t you leave?,” “Why did you tolerate the abuse?,” and “Why didn’t you do something?”

We seem to be constantly asking questions to the victim of the abuse. With this “why” narrative played over and over again, we imply some type of responsibility or blame onto the victim. This is a dangerous and slippery slope we should avoid continuing to perpetuate.

English singer-songwriter FKA twigs recently pushed back on this question after an interviewer asked her why she didn’t leave an abusive relationship.

“We have to stop asking that question,” said twigs in the interview. “I’m not going to answer that question any more. Because the question should really be to the abuser: why are you holding someone hostage with abuse? People say it can’t have been that bad, because else you would’ve left. But it’s like, no, it’s because it was that bad, I couldn’t leave.”

To avoid victim blaming and to work towards eliminating violence in our community, we can flip this narrative and start asking questions like “Why are you abusing this person you claim to love?” to the abuser. The first question in our minds should be “why didn’t the abuser stop their behaviour?” The sole responsibility of the abuse and violence should be placed on the abuser.

Like Wood said, let’s start asking different questions.

Sarah Maetche is the communications and administration manager at the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Centre.

Article as published in the Red Deer Advocate on April 1, 2022